It was a full house at last night’s Kodiak Island Borough Assembly meeting with residents voicing concerns about the bears in residential areas.
KMXT’s Maggie Wall has this report.
Click on arrow to listen to report, or continue on to read it.
Kodiak residents may love their bears, but those testifying last night seemed to agree that bears have their place—and that is not scarfing garbage in residential areas.
The death of three bears last week prompted a group of concerned citizens to rally the assembly to take action to address the local bear issue.
Three themes stood out among those testifying:
1) There seems to be more bears in residential areas than in the past
2) It’s a people issue and people need to be better with their trash as they are training the bears to hit the dumpsters and roll carts for meals
3) Something has to be done to curb the bear numbers before someone gets hurt
Bob Tucker is one of the organizers of last night’s public comment campaign. He thinks the reason for the increase in bears is due, in part, to both the Coast Guard and Leisnoi closing their lands to hunting.
“I’m not blaming anyone, just trying to state facts. Years ago Leisnoi closed their lands to permit hunting only. So local folks don’t hunt these areas because of the cost. Around the same time the United States Coast Guard close their lands to hunting. Now with two of the largest land owners, besides the borough in the city, on this side of the island changing these rules, the bear now have a safe haven right up against residential areas.”
Stig Yngve has lived in Kodiak his entire life. He says people’s carelessness puts the bears in jeopardy.
“They’re a lot more than bears on the Kodiak road system than people realize. They’re literally on every mountain and stream and greenbelt for most of the year. And we’re here we have the case of three bears that acquired a taste for cantaloupe rinds and diapers, and everything, since they’re in plastic. Because a handful people are just pigs with their garbage disposal habits. It’s truly sad.”
Daniel Miller called in his comments.
“I’m really against shooting the bears as a solution. I think that’s really stupid idea telling the truth. I’ve lived here, I guess 44 years now and Roger Smith told me, ‘Oh, yeah, you can see bears. Go down to the Buskin Lake.’ You know, and there were bears there. You know, there’s always been bears there.
“And I don’t think shooting them is going to solve anything. I think we need to solve them by getting rid of the garbage problem.”
Roger Smith, whom Miller mentions was a former area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak who was long known as Kodiak’s bear expert.
Another former ADF&G bear biologist did speak last night.
Retired biologist Larry Van Daele was long known as Kodiak’s resident bear expert.
He shared a story from his early career in Kodiak when a local Native elder, Larry Matfay, told him that it’s a circle—if you respect the bears, the bears will respect you.
The circle of respect, he says, has been broken in Kodiak.
“What I think’s gone on here recently is we broken that cycle. We’re not acting consistently with the bears anymore. A lot of people in town aren’t learning about the bears on how to live with them. The bears in turn, are getting free meals from us in a lot of different places. They’re getting harassed in some areas and loved in other areas, people aren’t acting consistently.
“So I think we need to get that cycle back intact, so we can live with these critters and coexist with them. Because we’re never going to kill all the bears that come into town [it will be] like a black hole. Just keep sucking more and more of them in.
“You gotta train them. Again, they’re smart critters, are somewhere between a dog and a primate in their level of intelligence. If you have a good dog, it’s great to live with.
“If you get a puppy and it doesn’t learn how to sit and you just shoot it and get another puppy and shoot it till it learns how to sit. That’s kind of a waste of time.
“So the coexistence, the consistency, is what we’re aiming at. And I really think we can do that…Because quite frankly, we’re kind of messing up now.”
Van Daele agreed with Jerrol Friend who spoke in favor of forming a task force to determine ways to deal with bears. Van Daele said there needs to be a concerted effort by local officials to teach people bear awareness and how to live with bears.
The assembly didn’t take any specific bear action last night, but the public comments were referenced many times during a more than two-hour discussion of the proposed UMOT ordinance.
The Uniform Minor Offense Table is a long list of proposed changes to borough ordinances that would allow the borough to fine people for infractions, including things such as not locking dumpsters and for not cleaning up trash.
The assembly agreed to send the UMOT ordinance on to a public hearing at a future meeting that means the public will have an opportunity to officially comment on the UMOT ordinance, including last night’s amendments, before it becomes law.